Theories of Representation and Analogy Use by Students in Learning Physics

Noah Finkelstein

University of Colorado, Boulder

Friday, Sept. 4, 2009, 2:30 PM, Serin 385

We find that both the representational format of problems (math, verbal, pictorial, etc.) and the use of analogy play critical roles in student approaches to and abilities in solving physics problems. In two lines of related research, we examine student use of analogy and representation.   We demonstrate that student reasoning and performance can be dependent, often strongly so, on the representational format of the questions asked. Simultaneously, representations appear to serve particularly important roles in students' abilities to productively use analogies to solve physics problems. We present a model of how students use analogies in their reasoning processes in solving physics problems, Analogical Scaffolding, and demonstrate its descriptive and predictive utility. Our understanding of how novices and experts use representations and analogies is then explored to demonstrate some classic results, as well as some unexpected results (such as the equal frequency with which experts and novices use representations). What these representations mean, how abstract they are, and how salient they are to students, can partially be explained by the Analogical Scaffolding model.

Last modified: Wed Aug 26 14:20:27 2009